Two of the stand-out novels on the shortlist for the older fiction category of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize focus on issues relating to sexual orientation and gender.
Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun is the story of a brother and sister driven apart by tragedy but brought back together as they both fall for boys at the same time. Nelson’s second novel has been optioned by Warner Bros to be adapted into a film.
The second book, The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson follows two teenagers struggling with their gender identities and finding it hard to keep the secret at school.
The organisers pointed out that although fantasy and adventure books were still present, they did not dominate the list.
James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said:
It doesn’t surprise me that fiction should reflect the issues and concerns of society as a whole. Great works of fiction reflect those issues that are of primary concern in a society. LGBT rights are something teenage children are informed about and can talk about sensitively – that wasn’t the case at the time of my childhood. The whole quality of understanding and debate has moved on dramatically, and we’re the better for that.”
Juno Dawson, a children’s author who has herself recently transitioned, also hailed the rising profile of LGBT-themed youth fiction. She told The Independent:
The floodgates are open and I don’t think they will close again. I hope we will see diversity as standard in children’s books. Ten years ago, authors may have been wary that including diverse characters would affect sales, but I don’t think that’s true anymore.”
These books are now getting their moment in the spotlight. We must be careful that diversity doesn’t become a fad in the way vampires were a fad with publishers getting bored and moving on.”
In total, 18 books have been shortlisted for the 2016 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, split into the categories of older fiction, younger fiction and illustrated books.